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Sam Hala’ufia is a big guy. His dad was born in Tonga, which is an entire island nation of big guys. Oddly enough, his name is pronounced just like it’s spelled. The first half is Holla (like Gwen Stefani sings in “…Back, Girl.”) Then, it’s ooh-fee-uh. The Mountain View High senior has used his size quite well. At 6’ 4” and 240 pounds, he anchors the defensive line for the Mountain Lion football team and he is also the defending state champion in both the shot put and the discus. (Sam’s older sister, Grace, was also a champion thrower at Mountain View and a super basketball player; she is now a member of the University of Arizona track & field team.)

Besides being athletic, Sam is also thoughtful, studious, courteous, and musically talented. When he called me the other night after 10:00, he apologized for the lateness of the call but said that he had to get his homework in his Calculus II class done first. Of course, everyone knows that getting your Calc II work comes before everything else…like, NEVER! Taking Pre-Calc is enough to make most high school kids’ knees buckle. Getting through the first year of Calculus with your GPA and dignity intact is a monster accomplishment. But playing football and taking Calc II definitely puts one in a special category.

His senior season got off to a rough start when the Lions dropped a heartbreaking 13-12 decision to their District rival, Marana. They rebounded with a big win at Sahuaro, but then dropped two straight to teams from Phoenix. The squad is hoping to have a strong second half, but there are games looming against always-tough Salpointe and suddenly tough Desert View.

“We’re good,” says Sam. “Whatever happens, Coach (Matt) Johnson has done a great job instilling a sense of family in us.”

As for his blood family, everybody is a musician. “My dad has always played the guitar and he wanted each of us to learn how to play at least one


So, naturally, the young man who can throw a discus 160 feet, put the shot 54 feet, and smash through thousand-pound offensive lines chose the cello.

“I really like it,” he says. “It has such a full sound. I hope to play it my whole life.”

His sister plays the viola. 

As for what else he wants to do with his life, he knows that he wants to be some kind of engineer. Right now, he’s thinking either civil or mechanical, but that’s still open. He wants to go to college somewhere in-state and, if he’s going to continue with sports, he would probably prefer football over track. Maybe at the UA.

Right now, however, he’s enjoying his senior year. Like all high-school athletes, he’s glad to have COVID-19 somewhere in the rear-view mirror. He’s got a football season to complete and then two State titles to defend. 

I forgot to ask if he can play “Bear Down, Arizona” on the cello.

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